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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Our path to cheapness

I've been a frugal/thrifty person my whole life.  Even when we both had good jobs and had this really cool thing called "disposable income", I still worked hard to keep our feet on the ground.  Sure, we splurged and had a great time spoiling friends and family, but we never overstepped our reach in terms of financial things.

The "cheap" aspect came in to our lives last April when Troy was laid off.  That kicked everything in to gear and forced us to make some choices that we had not had to make before. 

I've thought about writing this post for awhile, but before it was always too raw for me and put too much of our business out there.  I think I'm ready now because to be honest I'm really proud of how we're doing and I'm hoping that our path to cheapness will be helpful to anyone else going through a similar situation.  So with that, I give you the timeline that led to our path to cheapness!

July 2004 - got married.  I am working full time at a low paying job.  Troy was working very part time on small budget movies in Washington.  Our plan is to move to Los Angeles in 2005 so that he can explore the next stages of his career.

Jan 2005 - April 2005 - Troy got offered work on a really cheesy, but high budget movie in Spokane starring Cuba Gooding Jr.  He leaves for 4 months.  I see him twice during that time.  The movie allows us to complete my goal of a fully funded emergency fund before we leave for Los Angeles.

May 2005 - I fly down to LA and interview with an amazing company and am offered a job.  I do the "Dance of Joy" in the middle of a busy LA street because I'm wicked excited about this opportunity.  We get home and lease a LA apartment online that is 8 miles from my work.  We arrive back in in LA later that month.  We realize we live in the GHETTO.  Give our month's notice then and start looking for a safer place.  Troy finds good paying work almost immediately, but it is sporatic.

June 2005 - we move to a better neighborhood that allows me to walk or ride my bike to work.  It's expensive and tiny, but worth it.

July 2005-early 2007 - things are awesome.  We both have great jobs (I've been promoted twice at my fabulous company since May 2005 and my income has increased by a good amount), and are saving tons of money.  We decide to buy property back home to build on as we know at some point we're moving back to WA.

March 2007 - we buy an amazing piece of property that we're in love with.  I can picture the house, I can see the kids and grandkids playing the creek.  The papers are signed the same day we take off for London.  I found $200 round trip tickets to London online and at that point in time, we can't think of a reason to NOT go to London for $400 for 2 people.

Fall 2007 - writer's strike leaves Troy unemployed for 4 months.

Early 2008 - Troy has had it with the film industry.  His back is killing him all the time, it's so unpredictable and we want to have kids.  We decide to move home at the end of 2008.

July 18, 2008 - Troy and I get in to a giant fight over the color of my SIGG water bottle (for the record it was PINK not red), and I am in tears.

July 19, 2008 - 2 lines on a pee stick.  That may explain events of the previous day...

Dec 15 - 20th - we drive home during the west coast blizzard of 2008.  A 2 day trip takes us 5 days.  We never speak of this trip again because I was beyond annoyed with Troy.  And 6 months pregnant.

Jan - April 2009 - Troy can't find a full time job and is working little part time jobs here and there.  I find out in February that the company I'm working for remotely can't continue my remote employment.  I'm given full maternity leave and until Dec 2009 to find another job.  See, I told you there were awesome, but I'm still devastated.  I loved the job.

April 4 2009 - J bone, the light of our lives is born.  He was born a week after my grandfather who was one of my favorite people in the world passed away.  I felt grandpa's presence when Jack was born.  My baby is healthy and my grandfather is finally at peace.  All was right in the world.

May 2009 - Troy gets a job with a local HVAC company!!!  40 hrs a week and 5 days.  A normal job with a steady paycheck for Troy??  This is new for us.

August 27, 2009 - I get a new job a few months in advance of my end date with current company.  I take a 37% a year pay cut.  And now since I'm working out of the house, we have to pay for daycare  Ouchie.

April 1, 2010 - I come home from work to find Troy sitting in the carport home early from work.  Uh oh.  Laid off.  The company was wonderful, but they simply weren't getting enough work with the economy.

Troy works odd jobs and eventually gets hired at a "warehouse" store.  During this time we're pinching pennies and Troy realizes he wants to be a fire fighter.  Any idea how much it costs to become a fire fighter?  A shitload.  He gets accepted in to a great internship program that requires 24-36 hours a week of volunteering.  He turns in his new internship schedule to the "warehouse" store and is let go the next day.  Lame.  Tears and near-panic attacks for me, the keeper of the budget.

Between April and August 2010 our income was further cut by 40%, so we:
-reduced my Roth IRA contribution by $100 a month
-got rid of my Blackberry that my old company used to pay for
-cut cable and internet down to a cheaper option
-got more serious about our grocery budget
-stopped renewing any magazines
-gardened my ass off in hopes of saving money.  The horrible PNW summer was not helpful
-cried in the shower, in the car, and behind my closed office door.  A LOT.

I was also blessed during this time with a giftcard to a "warehouse" store courtesy of a group of women I know.  I was embarrassed to need help, but so humbled and honored at the same time.

August 2010 - I start this blog.  I need an outlet to try and help myself come to terms with the "new normal" in our life.  I'm hoping to reach others and try to help anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation.  I'm also hoping that writing helps calm the chaos in my brain.

September 2010 was a low point for me.  I won't go in to it, but it wasn't a pretty place to be.  My former nickname of "Pollyanna" was dashed in to the rocks and I could barely wake up each day and face the world.

October 2010 - Troy gets a new part time job.  Low paying, but very flexible with his schooling.  Hurray!

My parents call and offer to help us with our property loan.  Property loans have insane interest rates even for people like us with excellent credit.  I initially say no because I'm prideful and hate taking help from anyone.  We eventually accept the help, and our mortgage payment drops by $400 a month.  Phew.

November 2010 - February 2011 - some high points and low points.  Mostly low points.  Lots of mold in our apartment and our upstairs neighbors are the devil.  I lose my shit on the phone to my sister one day and have a horrible ugly cry.  Troy's grandma gives us some money because "you're going to get it from me eventually, why not take it now".  We do a few car maintenance fixes and the rest goes in to our emergency fund".

January 2011 - bye bye cable and DVR.  Hello Hulu!

February 2011 - a conversation that I imagine going something like this takes place at my parent's house:
Dad - "Hey Barb, we have that rental house and our tenants suck and never pay on time.  What do you think about renting it to Sarah and Troy"?
Mom - "WHAT?  I can't hear you over how loud the TV is.  Why do you like Two and Half Men so much?  This show is dumb".
Mom - "Oh, that is a good idea.  Let's call her.  And I'm changing the TV to Ellen".

I get the call and say no.  At this point, all I have left is pride and it's just hanging on by a thread.  I tell Troy and he responds "if we were your parents and Jack was us, would you do the same thing"?  I slam my head in to the wall repeatedly because of course I would, but it's so hard to be an adult and keep accepting help when you KNOW you could do this on your own. 

I give in, and we accept the house. 

Our apartment lease is up April 30th.  My parent's tenant's lease is up June 30th.  After nearly walking upstairs to murder our douchebag neighbors one morning, I tell Troy "we have to leave or you'll be visiting me in jail".  We decide to stay with Troy's parents from April 30th - until we can get in to my parent's place.  We will save enough money for Troy to be out of work for 10 weeks next spring to attend the fire academy.  I unclench my fists and attempt to focus on moving away from the satan couple who live above us.

In the year since Troy got laid off we have:
-Gone from financially secure to often on the edge
-Had more fights and tears than should be had in 1 year
-Cancelled cable and anything "fun" in our lives that costs
-Gotten serious about making foods from scratch.  Our grocery bills dropped but we're actually eating so much better
-Learned so much about ourselves
-Learned to accept help.  Many times.  Learned the meaning of both humility and grace.  Learned that in life all you can truly count on is the love and support of family and good friends.
-Put our dream property up for sale.  No bites.  Yet
-Continued to save fairly aggressively for retirement.  I would give up all the magazines, sparkling water, cable, and fancy cell phones to continue to save for our future.  Beans and rice is often our present, but I refuse to let it follow us in to our future.
-Maintained no consumer debt
-Continued to drive our ugly, but paid for 8 & 9 year old cars
-Realized that our son's laughter when playing (for free) at the park is worth 1,000 times more than going to a movie or out on a nice date

March 31st, 2011 - I sit down to write this post.  I know it's long and realize hardly anyone will actually read it, but it's therapeutic for me to get it all out.  I remember 2 quotes that I used to love:

"We are all in the gutter.  But some of us are looking at the stars" - Oscar Wilde
"If the end of the world were imminent, I would still plant a tree today" - can't remember

I remember these quotes, and for the first time in 12 months, I believe them.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Make your own vapor rub

I've officially gone off the deep end in terms of homemade stuff.  My friend Anne would proclaim me "full hippy" at this point.

Last week Jack had the spring cold that everyone in the US is currently dealing with.  Baby Vick Vapor Rub on his feet (and then covered in socks) and on his chest did seem to help.  After I slathered some on him, I took at the look at the ingredients and thought "hey, I could make that".  It was simply petroleum jelly, and herb fragrance.

My idea was to get essential oils and put a few drops of each in his cool mist humidifier.  That way it would be a continuous solution while he slept.  I bought lavender, eucalyptus, and rosemary essential oils from Amazon, but if you grow these herbs in your garden I would imagine you could stick some in your humidifier.

If you don't have a humidifier, mix 2 drops of each oil with some Vaseline and rub on your chest and feet (then cover with socks).  You could also mix 2 drops of each oil with a little water in a spray bottle and spritz on your pillow.

With the purchase of the essential oils, this is likely not a cheaper solution than just buying Vicks from the store.  The oils will last me years and years, but Vicks is cheap.  The appeal of making my own is that I know exactly what my kid is inhaling when he has a cold.

This is a great solution if you're also dealing with a sick husband at home.  It's a scientific fact that man colds are 1,000,000 times worse than any cold a woman gets.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pantry Challenge - Week 3 check in

How is it going for everyone?  If you haven't joined the pantry challenge, there is still time.  Sign up here.

Last week's extra point for creativity goes to E's yummy quinoa recipe!

As I said last week, I was out of town Tuesday-Saturday, so I didn't do any grocery shopping this past week.  I went a bit over budget yesterday, but I'm counting that technically as 2 weeks since we returned home to an empty fridge.  I also bought a few items for Jack's birthday party next weekend.

So, what did I buy?

Like the counter burn in the front right-hand corner?  Still don't know how I did that!

Milk man
-2 half gallons of milk ($5)
-2 dozen organic, cage free eggs ($7.98)

Local butcher
-1 gallon of raw milk ($10).  Raw milk makes homemade yogurt taste AMAZING.

-2 lbs of Tillamook cheddar ($6.99)
-3 lbs of asparagus ($4...I think)

Fred Meyer (grocery store)
Items in red are meant for Jack's birthday party this coming Sunday, so I'm not counting those in my overall weekly budget.
-10 lbs of organic potatoes ($6.99)
-2 things of juice ($5.58, but used 2 $1 off coupons for a total of $3.58)
-So Delicious Coconut Milk ($5.98, but used 2 $1 off coupons for a total of $3.98) (this is what my dairy intolerant munchkin drinks)
-2 bottles of BBQ sauce ($5, but 1 bottle is for Jack's party, so $2.50 for this week's budget)
-Aluminum pans for making and freezing chicken pot pie ($1.49)
-1 organic plain yogurt since I'm a dumb dumb and forgot to save homemade yogurt as a starter ($.99)
-Tillamook sour cream for Jack's birthday cake ($1.50)
-3 boxes of Fred Meyer cream cheese for Jack's party (frosting) ($3.75)
-1 lb of natural deli meat for Jack and Troy ($8.99)
-Bag of frozen organic strawberries for the strawberry cupcakes for Jack's party ($2.99)
-Box of graham crackers for my 33 year old son husband who prefers store bought to my homemade ones.  Insulting!  ($2.39)
-2 onions ($1.66)
-1 bunch of organic green onions ($.50)
-Organic bananas ($1.39)
-Bag of organic carrots ($1.49)
-1 box of Jello pudding for Jack's cake ($1.25)
-Anchovy paste (going to try my hand at making Green Goddess dressing!) ($2.19)
-Organic celery ($3.19)
-Organic coconut oil ($5.99)
-1 lemon ($.50)
-Salt ($1.98)
-Cumin from the bulk spice section ($1.08.  And that was enough to fill a bottle that would have cost $5 if purchased from the spice aisle.  Bulk spices people, I'm telling you!)
-1 lime ($.50)
-1 disgusting tub of mayo for my husband who loves it. BARF ($3.79, but $3.29 with my $.50 off coupon)
-$10 store giftcard.  There is a small, but growing group of constituents at my work that are in real need of food and gas.  I'm absorbing $20 a month in to my grocery budget to donate giftcards to this group.  If I can afford $10 for raw milk, I can afford to help out more than I previously was.  ($10)
Total: $86.59 - $10.74 (Jack's party) - $.20 for bag refund = $75.65

Total spent at all stores for 2 weeks: $109.62, or $54.81 per week.  Not too bad! will all this "stuff" feed us this week?  Most of the ingredients are coming from items already in my pantry, fridge, or freezer.

Monday - homemade chicken pot pie, asian pea pods, and home canned fruit
Tuesday - a homemade quiche from the freezer, roasted asparagus, and home canned fruit
Wednesday - leftovers
Thursday - BBQ pork sandwiches (found 2 pork shoulders in my freezer last week!) on homemade buns, sweet potato fries, and home canned fruit
Friday - black beans and rice in the crockpot with roasted asparagus
Saturday - leftovers!
Sunday - Jack's birthday party.  We'll be serving make your own pizzas using "my" pizza crust recipe, green salad with homemade dressings, and cut up fruit.  Dessert will be chocolate dinosaur cake, and strawberry cupcakes for those who don't eat chocolate

Monday, March 28, 2011

Cheap tip of the week - kick your dish soap bottle to the can

...the recycling can that is!

After 2 years of having the same Seventh Generation plastic dishsoap bottle sitting on my counter, it was getting grungy.  We use the Kirkland Signature Eco dishsoap from Costco and refill the smaller bottle, but damn that little bottle was looking bad.  Additionally, because the smaller bottle was squeezeable, I thought nothing of using a huge squirt of soap instead of using less.  Over using a product = wasted money.  I needed something that wasn't butt ass ugly, and didn't allow for over usage of dishsoap.

Enter, a $3 empty oil and vinegar bottle
Notice the forearm of Troy as he stands there and wonders if he wife has officially lost it, because who takes a pic of a soap bottle?!

This bottle has worked great since I brought it home about a month ago.  The little nozzle gets gunked up about once a week, but letting it soak in hot water clears it right now.  And now, I have a pretty bottle that helps me from over using a product.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pantry Challenge - Week 2 check in

How did last week go for everyone?  What do you have planned for this week?

Last week was great for us, and almost all the planned meals came to fruition.  The exception would be I had planned to have dinner at my parent's yesterday, but a feverish toddler and a trip to the ER threw a wrench in that idea!  After being alone with a sicky kiddo all day, I was pooped.  Even though I had an organic free-range chicken breast defrosting, I totally cheated and bought a factory farmed rotisserie chicken from Costco.  The ER was right next door, and I headed over to try to fill Jack's prescription (closed. DRAT!).

The chicken was used with Kitchen Aid mixer pizza dough, BBQ sauce, mozzarella, and some caramelized onions and became BBQ chicken pizza.

And tonight, we're having Subway.  Ohhhhh, totally against meal planning "rules", but Jack and I are headed to Denver tomorrow to visit a friend (thanks to miles, the ticket was only $5!!).  I have to work late tonight, so between packing and working late, AND not having to buy groceries for this week, I'm cheating and getting take out.

So, what is on tap for you guys this week?  Are you finding certain aspects of this challenge, challenging?  Or, is it easier than you expected?

Last weeks' winner of the "extra point" for creativity goes to KEQ's stir-fry recipe.  Congrats!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tip of the week - Kitchen Aid pizza dough

Someone once posted a comment on this blog along the lines of "oh Kitchen Aid mixer, do your wonders ever cease"?  The answer is no, they don't!

If you have a Kitchen Aid mixer already (or another mixer with a bread hook), you MUST try the pizza dough recipe below.  It's beyond easy and very delicious.  I took it from the cookbook that came with my mixer years ago.

1 cup of hot/warm water
1 package of instant yeast (I buy it in bulk, and 1 pkg = 2 & 1/4 tsp)
1/2 tsp of salt
2 tsp of olive oil
2.5-3.5 cups of flour (2 & 3/4 cup is perfect for my climate)

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, add other ingredients, and mix for 2-5 min on "stir" or "1" on the Kitchen Aid.  After it's in a nice little dough ball, drizzle olive oil around the edges of the mixing bowl, and coat all sides of the dough with the oil.  The olive oil is pretty important - when I've used cooking spray the dough never turns out as good.  And cooking spray is also pretty disgusting.

Cover with a warm wet towel, and allow to rise until doubled.  For thin crust, give it a 30 min rise.  Cover a pizza pan with cornmeal (have had horrible luck using flour), and roll, or pat to resemble a pizza.

Bake at 450 for 15-21 minutes (check often after 15 min).

I like to put the bowl in the oven for a few minutes while it's heating up.  Warm dough is much easier to work with in my experience.

You can also freeze the dough after mixing, and allow it to thaw and rise in the fridge overnight.  Put it in a very large container as it expands and has been known to punch out a gallon Ziploc in the past!

This is also great for breadsticks!  Roll it out on a cornmeal covered cookiesheet pretty thin, and bake for about 8 minutes.  Mix minced garlic, parsley, and a little basil with a pat of melted butter and brush over the baked bread.  Put back in the oven until it's reach your desired level of "doneness".  When it's done, I like to sprinkle a little parm on top.  Serve with a side of marinara.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Make your own peanut butter. Did know you could?

Warning: you may kick yourself for never doing this before once you're done reading this post.

Sunday morning my phone rang on the way to the grocery store.  It was Troy telling me we were out of peanut butter and could I pick some up.  Generally we buy Jif (or is it Jiff?) from Costco.  I've been sick of buying overly processed peanut butter, and the fancy non-processed stuff is VERY expensive.  And generally the natural stuff tastes like a donkey's farts.  As with all of my making from scratch escapades, this one started with my asking myself "how hard can it really be to make"?

Answer: it turns out a chimp could make peanut butter.  Well, at the very least an almost 2 year old toddler boy.

I paid $.92 from the bulk section for Valencia peanuts that were shelled, and dry roasted.  All the other ingredients I had on hand.

Step 1: take your ingredients...
...and add to a food processor.  I have a nice one that I purchased during an amazing sale with Christmas money.  I'm guessing a blender would work fine for this recipe but you'll likely need to scrape the sides a few times.

Step 2: corral a toddler away from his ninjas long enough to help you out.  Said toddler LOVES pushing the buttons on the food processor.
Step 3: add 1.5-2 cups of peanuts to a food processor, and process off an on for about 3-5 minutes.  While the processor is running, add a pinch of salt if desired, and a few teaspoons of oil.  The oil isn't necessary, but I needed it to get the peanut butter closer to a texture that we're used to.  Drizzle in some honey while processor is running.  I probably added about 1/4 cup plus or minus a few teaspoons from Jack sticking his hands and a spoon out while I was pouring it in.  My kid is a bee.

Step 4: remove from processor and add some chopped peanuts if you want a chunkier texture.  Store in an airtight container.  I'm keeping this in our cupboard, but it's a gamble if it needs to be refrigerated or not.  Will keep you posted after a few weeks!

Step 5: pick your jaw up off the floor, and attempt to the recover from the shock and awe on how easy this is to make.

If you buy your peanut butter from Costco or use popular brand names, this probably won't save you too much money, if any.  I spent $.92 for peanuts.   The rest of the ingredients combined probably were about $.45, so I spent $1.37 for 1 pint of peanut butter.  But if you compare that to store-bought natural peanut butter, the savings is about $2-3.50 a jar.  Additionally, it's hard to put a price on peanut butter that isn't overly processed AND doesn't taste like donkey farts.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pantry challenge - week 1 check in

How did everyone do this week? 

Since last Thursday I made:  pot roast on Thursday, takeout on Friday (oooooh, so bad!), Arroz Con Pollo on Saturday, and Sunday we always eat dinner with my parents, sis, and aunt & uncle.  I brought a peach and blueberry crisp for dessert and the fruit was found in the bottom of my chest freezer.  I also made blueberry coffee cake for Troy to take to his internship this morning.  That helps in two ways 1) I make a tiny dent in the 2 enormous bags of blueberries I've somehow found myself owning, and 2) I'm subtly letting the people in charge of Troy's internship that you "have to hire Troy because his wife bakes".

For next week, I spent $49.21 on groceries, barely squeaking by with the $50 +/- suggestion.  I didn't buy all the much, but what kills my budget each and every week is lunch meat.  Mr. Frugal by Force loves sandwiches with a passion that is outlawed in 49 states (we lived in CA for 4 years, and know anything goes there!), and no matter how many leftovers we have for lunches, he has at least 1 sandwich per day.  And he is perfectly fine eating gross and nasty lunch meat, but I refuse to buy it.  So, we get the expensive all-natural lunch meat from the deli.  I know it's still pretty much factory farm meat, but it's my only fix for now.

This week I bought:

-organic pears ($6.63 - yikes, not buying pears again until next season!)
-2 bags of powdered sugar.  Yeah, I know I just posted on how to make your own.  But we don't have white sugar in the house, and when I went to buy some I saw that powdered sugar was on sale.  Since it was premade, I just bought it.  It's going in Jack's birthday cake frosting. ($3.98)
-organic green onions ($.69)
-1 onion (my others seemed to have gone bad in the pantry.  Drat!) ($.43)
-4 avocados.  Jack eats them every day, and we had chicken tortilla soup for dinner on Monday.  That soup screams for diced avocado on top! ($3.92.  Crap, I didn't realize how expensive those were until just now!)
-1 box of tofu ($1.49)
-1.5 lbs of Valencia peanuts ($.92) (check tomorrow's post for a "make your own peanut butter" recipe!)
-grapefruit juice.  Juice is not usually something I buy these days, but it was on sale, and I had a coupon ($1.92)
-Thai spicy chili paste.  LOVE this and we use it on tons of stuff ($2.49)
-Sugar snap peas ($2.50)
-Organic carrots ($1.49)
-Bean sprouts ($.89)
-1 package of owl stickers.  Jack is now potty trained, but still requests "owl stickas" when he uses the potty.  NOT having to wash diapers every 2 days is worth its weight in owl stickers in my opinion! ($1.29)
-Lunch meat (1 lb of turkey for Troy, and 1/2 lb of sliced ham for Jack) ($11.85)
Not pictured because purchased from a local store the day before:
-2 free range local chicken breasts (not pictured) (can't remember, but they're $3.19 a lb)
- a little less than 1 lb of local bacon.  I have some in the freezer, but when I saw they were making peppered bacon and NEVER have it in stock and I happen to LOVE pepper bacon, I gave in! (Can't remember, but $4.99 a lb)
Total: $49.21 is all of this going to feed us for the next week?

Monday - chicken tortilla soup in the crockpot (1 frozen large chicken breast, some of my organic frozen corn, a big handful of organic dried black beans, some chicken stock, 1 can of organic diced tomatoes, 1 can of diced green chilies, garlic, onion, and this taco seasoning mix (seriously, don't buy it.  Do you know how cheap it is to make your own?!  If you're missing an ingredient, click here for a cheap tip on how to purchase spices).  Cook for 8 hrs on low.  Shred the chicken breast before serving, and serve with a side of my yummy homemade rolls, and it's a perfect dinner for the crappy weather we're having.  The only thing I bought for this meal was chicken breast.

Tuesday - Crepes with diced peaches from the freezer, baked bacon, and diced red potatoes mixed with olive oil and the dry ingredients from my ranch dressing mix (bake in a greased cast iron skillet at 400 for 20-45 min) - yummy!  I'm really looking forward to this dinner!  The only thing I bought for this meal was the bacon.

Wednesday - yakisoba with fried tofu.  Don't knock it until you try it - super yummy and packed full of protein.  I bought carrots, green onions, bean sprouts, tofu, and peas for this.  I'll be using the rice noodles I found in the pantry, and I have peanuts in the pantry.

Thursday - Chicken or beef (I have both in the freezer) enchiladas with spanish rice, black beans from the crockpot.  For the rice, make it in a rice cooker (or on the stove) with chicken broth instead of water, and some of the taco seasoning I posted above.  I didn't have to buy anything new for this meal.

Friday - I'm gone all day and won't be home until late, so we're rocking my crockpot lentil soup and then I'm making mozzarella toast.  The onion and carrots I bought this weekend will go with the soup.  Other than that, I have everything else already on hand.

Saturday - I'm making Korean steak and rice.  Will likely serve with a side of peas from the freezer.  I have everything on hand for this, but the green onions I bought for the yakisoba on Wednesday will go well with the marinade for the steak.

Sunday - dinner at my parent's again.  I'll probably bring dessert or bread.  I have all those ingredients on hand.

It's not too late to join the pantry challenge!  Click here to sign up.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Arroz con pollo - empty out your pantry in style

I can pretty much guarantee you, 75% of people reading this blog have almost all the ingredients for this dish sitting at home right now.

This recipe was given to me by my friend Elaina almost 2 years ago.  It's beyond simple, but looks complex enough to impress anyone eating it.  Serve it with a side of crockpot black beans and you've got yourself a simple, cheap, and healthy meal!

Arroz Con Pollo
In a big saucepan or dutch oven, melt 1 stick of butter over medium heat.  Add diced onions and celery and whatever other kinds of veggies you may want.  Stir occasionally for about 5 minutes.   Add 1-1.5 cups of uncooked rice to the butter and veggie mixture, and stir often until the rice begins to brown (toast).

Once the rice looks nice and toasty, add 1 can of diced tomatoes - stir.  Add a few cups of chicken broth, a splash of cooking wine (if you have it), and some garlic.  Add an uncooked chicken breast.  Cover and cook on low for 10-25 minutes, stirring every few minutes. 

Just before serving, use kitchen shears to cut the chicken in to pieces.   Serve on tortillas with a side of black beans.   Bon appetite!

This meal was made entirely out of stuff gleamed from my pantry (arborio rice (fancy rice that I bought 2 yrs ago to make risotto and have done absolutely nothing with), 1 can of tomatoes, onion), and fridge (half of a big chicken breast from a previous dinner, celery, garlic).  The only thing we had to purchase was tortillas.  I've been known to make my own, but the fresh ones from a local market are sooooooo much better.  And you get 18 for $3.49.

Get the stank out of your house

This week's cheap trick is brought to you by my sister.  In 2009, my sister and her husband bought two chocolate lab puppies.  About 7 days later they found out she was pregnant.  So, she has a 10 month old son and 2 chocolate lab Clydesdales dogs that she is charged with keeping clean and tidy.

With our crappy weather of late, the dogs have had to stay in the house a lot more.  Wet dogs = awesome carpet smell.  Amy sprinkles baking soda on her carpet before she leaves the house to run errands.  When she gets home, she vacuums it up and voila - a way to deodorize your house that is safe for kids and dogs and doesn't cost more than a few pennies.

I think adding a few drops of essential oils to the baking soda before sprinkling it would add another layer of awesomeness.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

:whistles: ain't it purty?

Likey the new design?  I sure as hell do!

About 2 months ago, my friend Ang sent me a text that said "your frugal blog is driving me nuts".  Ms. Ang is quite the talented graphic designer, and my boring generic blog template was not cutting it in her creative eyes.

I can't imagine how long it took her to do it, but I do know that I love it and am so appreciative of her efforts.

I hope you enjoy the new look as much as I do.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pantry challenge inventory check in

If you took stock of what you have, feel free to post in the comments.  It's not a requirement for "playing", so keep on keepin' on if you didn't take inventory.  Click here if you want to join the "Frugal by Choice, Cheap by Necessity Clean Out Yo' Pantry Challenge-extravoganza". 
I did a very loose survey of our stocks.  And I'm not counting flour, sugar, salt, shortening, oil, spices, etc.  I'm also not counting cleaning products, TP, etc.  I didn't inventory the fridge, because all that stuff has already been planned for.

I added stuff later and have put them in red.

-a bunch of dried black, pinto, and navy beans
-many cans of organic diced tomatoes
-a bunch of cans of diced green chilies
-1 lb of panko bread crumbs
-a can of pumpkin
-a buttload of pasta (spaghetti, egg noodles, etc.)
-a multitude of sauces
-a bunch of lentils
-a pint size jar of peanuts
-5 lbs red potatoes
-3 lbs yellow potatoes
-2 onions
-2 containers of organic chicken and beef bouillon

-a bunch of grassfed steaks
-1 lb of grassfed ground beef
-1 lb of organic ground chicken
-1 local chicken breast
-1 lb of local bacon
-1 grassfed pot roast that I embarrassingly had no idea was in there
-a BUNCH of blueberries, peaches, zucchini, and pumpkin
-a good amount of peas, corn, green beans, okra
-2 more loaves of bread.  Guess I'm baking this weekend!
-bag of sweet potato fries
-3 lbs of organic butter
-8 oz of apple butter
-4 oz of spaghetti sauce
-1 random box of veggie burgers

Zombie attack/apocalypse garage stash
-a ton of home canned peaches and pears
-a few jars of homemade applesauce and apple juice
-a few jars of homemade blackberry pancake syrup
-a box of Trader Joe's apple cinnamon oatmeal (LOVE this, but I was eating $15 worth a month.  When Troy got laid off, I stopped buying it)
-a random bag of Quaker Oat Squares
-a bottle of agave nectar
-1 bottle of ketchup
-2 packages of rice noodles
-1 box of ghiradelli brownie mix

I know there is tons more, but like I said this was a loose inventory!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A cooking challenge. Impress your friends and win a prize!

Today I'm excited to introduce my first ever group challenge that will result in a prize!  To me, the prize is super awesome, but it's not extremely fancy.  I'm paying for it myself using Amazon giftcards I've earned through Swagbucks (you can sign up on the swidget in the right-hand column of this blog), so don't trip over yourself with the idea that I'm makin' it rain with bills at da club.

The prize is one of my newest favorite kitchen tools - the Microplane grater/zester.  This joins a group of things that I list under the title "I know I can cook without this, but for the life of me I can't imagine why I ever did".  I enjoy complicated list titles.

We're moving at the end of April and will be in temp housing for 2 months (another post for another day).  Given this, I'm highly motivated to clean out my freezer, pantry, and zombie/apocalypse food storage in my garage.  Plus the fact that food prices are continuing to skyrocket has me looking for new ways to stretch my food dollars even further.

So enough jibber-jabbering already!  I'm pleased to announce the "Frugal by Choice, Cheap by Necessity Clean Out Yo' Pantry Challenge-extravoganza".  I also like complicated contest titles.

Contest conditions
The actual contest will start on March 15th and will end on April 12th.
1) comment to this post to indicated you're participating.  You don't have to follow my blog or anything like that to participate;  I'm not keen on that kind of thing.  But, if you're a new reader, I would welcome you to follow me if you like what you see!
2) I'm providing a few days of prep time and planning.  This Thursday, participants can list what pantry items they're working with.  (post script edit: you don't NEED to post a list to participate.  It was more of an idea so that others could see what you're working with and possibly suggest a meal idea.  Totally not a necessary task required to "play"!)
3) Every week on Tuesday, I'll post a pantry challenge update.  Respond via comment what you've made the previous week. 
4) Each week you participate, you'll receive 1 entry "point".  Each week I will assign 1 bonus point to the person who made the most creative dish using pantry ingredients.  Using the awesome power of Excel's "random" function, I will randomly select and announce a winner on April 13th. 
5) If you are so inclined, I would welcome you to blog about this on your own blog, and link it to mine.
6) Contest is open to everyone, but I'll only ship the grater within the US.  If you're out of the US and win, I'll send you an Amazon giftcard for the value of the grater.
7) Postscript: you can join at any time by commenting to this post and posting updates in the weekly check in.  You don't have to necessarily participate each time.

Contest rules
1) you need to make (at least) 3 meals a week using mostly pantry items.  I don't care if that meal is breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  But if you're making breakfast, "plain oatmeal with cinnamon" ain't going to win you any creativity points!  I'm not going to be anal about what percentage "mostly" is; honor system people! 
2) participants are strongly encouraged to keep their weekly grocery budget to $50 (+/- a few bucks) including fresh fruit, veggies, dairy, etc.  Because Jack's 2nd birthday party is coming up and I need to increase my grocery shopping that week I'm nice, special occasion foods/meals are exempt from this contest.

So, what do you say?  Are you in?  Let the games begin.

PS, thank god for spell check because I had this originally listed as the "panty challenge".

Monday, March 7, 2011

Making your own powdered sugar

Remember a few weeks ago when I blew your mind with the info that you can make your own brown sugar?  Well, hold on to those barely reattached skulls, cause I'm doing it again! 

You can also make your own powdered sugar.

Making your own powdered sugar is just as easy as making brown sugar; heck it's actually easier!  All you need is regular white sugar.  Note: I have not had good luck doing this when using the evaporated cane juice crystals that I use to replace white sugar.

Place regular white sugar in a food processor, blender, or magic bullet type thingy.  Process it until it's fine and fluffy (maybe 2-3 minutes?).  I haven't had white sugar in the house for awhile, but when I used to do this, it worked great to replace powdered sugar in any recipe.  With a small pantry and kitchen, having 1 less box or bag to store can be huge!

Stayed tuned tomorrow for a food challenge that I'm opening up to anyone who reads this blog!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cookie monster cupcakes

Jack is about to turn 2 in April, and that is causing me to wax nostalgic about his 1st birthday.  Homeboy was super sick with a 103.5 temp (double ear infection), but that didn't stop my little trooper from tearing in to his gifts and having fun.

This year my dinosaur-crazed Jackosaurus Rex has requested a "chokit burday cake".  Using giftcards I earned from Swagbucks, I bought this cake mold and with a hope and a prayer I'll decorate it decently.  I'm not what you call artistic...

Last year after trying to figure out a "theme" for the party, I gave up and just did a "whatever the hell works" theme.  I had decided on cupcakes because I was making everything for the party and cupcakes sounded easy enough.  After living in LA for 4 years and experiencing the phenomenon that was the mid- to late 2000's cupcake craze, I knew things could be done simply, or could get complicated as hell.

I don't "do" complicated, so my goal was to have something look complicated, but be easy.  The result? Cookie Monster cupcakes!

When Jack turned 1, he was allergic to wheat and dairy.  The base and frosting on these cupcakes comes from the Baby Cakes cookbook which contains recipes that are (mostly) gluten free.  They're also mostly vegan and sugar free!  They taste great (shocking, I know)!

I baked the cupcakes and allowed them to cool.  I dyed the homemade icing blue (it took almost a whole tube of food coloring), and spread each cupcake with an appropriate amount of frosting (read: a crap ton) and set aside.

For the fur: Put 2 cups of shredded coconut in a plastic container with a lid.  Then add 3-5 drops of food coloring on the side of the container.  Place lid on, and shake.  Continue to add a few drops of food coloring until you've reached your desired color.  Dip frosted cupcakes in dyed coconut and set aside.

For the eyes: I used white chocolate melting chips that I found in the craft aisle at Wal-Mart.  Any craft store should carry them.  I used white frosting as the "glue" and placed a brown M&M ("M" side down) in the middle of the flat side of the chip.  Nestle the eyes in the fur.

For the mouth: shove a mini Chips a'hoy (or a mini homemade cookie) in to the fur.  Yep, that's it.

Remember how I said I'm not artistic?  I didn't lie; I'm not.  SO, if I can make these, anyone with 2 arms is quite capable.  They didn't take that long at all, and I think the result speaks for itself:

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sarah Bunch photography

Over 1 billion years ago when my sister was in Jr. High, she met a wonderful girl named Tammy.  My sis and Tammy had lots of adventures and a friendship that has been around since the earth cooled.  I would link you to Tammy's blog, but eh hem, she hasn't updated it since NOVEMBER.  (hint hint Tammy)

Tammy's sister Sarah took up photography a year or so ago while living in Spain.  Recently Sarah moved home to Washington and decided to open a photography business.  I've admired Sarah's photos for a long time now, and was sooooo excited when Troy, Jack, and myself got to be a family of guinea pigs for Sarah's new venture.

Sarah used to be a kindergarten teacher, so she was great with Jack despite the fact that he was a molar teething hellcat that morning.  It was also farking cold, but it didn't seem to phase her as she climbed through bushes and mud to get the perfect shots.

Despite the subzero arctic temps, my rambunctious and pesky toddler, and pausing for me to constantly wipe snot from my nose, we had a fantastic time with Sarah!  We are beyond pleased with the photos (click here to view a sample of our session), and are so thankful that these precious memories were captured by such capable hands.

So, if you're in the Puget Sound area, and are looking for family photos, my family highly recommends Sarah for your photography needs!  Oh, and she is fluent in Spanish which is muy bien.  And yeah, I had to look that up on google translator.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A nice reminder from the big guy

Sometimes you have to go through something that is dark, scary, and unknown... get to the prize at the end of the journey

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